VERICUT helps Pentaxia face the challenges of the composites industry
Retiring from a high-pressure role in the rail industry, Stephen Ollier and his wife planned on buying a holiday home in France. Instead they established Pentaxia, a composites engineering company that is going from strength-to-strength. As Managing Director he sees his role as investing in the right tools so the staff can meet the demands of the customers. Protecting the company’s delivery promises and machine tool investments is CNC simulation and optimisation software, VERICUT.
Derby-based Pentaxia was established in 2008 when Stephen Ollier was asked to help some former colleagues that had started a precision engineering business. He recalls: “They rented a 5-axis machine tool and set up a business, but they had not had much experience in running a business, so they asked me if I wanted to join. Retirement was a bit boring, so I joined.”
Originally located in a rented building with no running water or toilets, after 6 months the decision was taken to look for new premises. However, in 2008 no one wanted to rent an industrial property to a new business. “My wife and I decided to put our money intended for our holiday home into this factory instead. In the beginning our customers were small composite companies, we supplied them with patterns and always focused on providing a reliable service. This was appreciated and we started to progress strongly.”
By the second year the company had two machines and decided to start looking at composite moulds and tooling for the aerospace industry. The business was also ‘steered’ towards investing in composite component manufacturing and it now runs a full composite facility.
Today, the company employs 57 staff and has one of the largest 5-axis facilities in the UK, with five 5-axis and two 3-axis machine tools installed in a 7,000 ft2 workshop. The remaining 15,000 ft2 of the Olliers’ industrial ‘holiday home’ has two autoclaves, three clean rooms, a full inspection facility and these will shortly be joined by a new paint facility and composite press. The IS0 9001 approved company also has AS9100 aerospace accreditation, and works with many of the main Formula One teams and aerospace companies.
Although matched in terms of technical and dimensional demands, the motorsport and aerospace customers’ requirements are poles apart. Stephen Ollier explains: “Aerospace customers provide a schedule to meet while the F1 guys will say ‘we want it by midnight – tonight’, so we have to be flexible enough to meet these varied requirements.”
He continues: “As Managing Director, I see my job as always providing the right equipment, the right machines to the right people. We have never been afraid of investing in the business and a key part of the investment is software; today we have three CAD/CAM seats supported by VERICUT CNC simulation software.”
Many of the jobs produced by Pentaxia are unique, as a batch of one there is no opportunity to prove out the NC code for errors so there is a high chance of collision, made more likely with the complexity of the 5-axis machine tools. “You need staff there on-hand to keep an eye, manning the machine almost full time. That is laborious and you can still suffer some collisions, we did and they can be expensive both in terms of repair and the impact on the ability of the whole business to deliver on scheduled work,” Stephen Ollier says.
Every machine tool is programmed off-line using Delcam Powermill, and the post-processed NC code is then taken straight in to VERICUT. “All NC programs have to go through VERICUT, anything else is unacceptable. The simulation software also gives us accurate run times, although not perfect as it cannot predict everything it is within 5 or 10 per cent. This is important to our production planning as we have run uninterrupted jobs up to 16 hours,” Stephen Ollier states.
As well as providing crash protection for the machine tools, one of Stephen Ollier’s goals for Pentaxia was to run ‘lights-out’. He says: “When we invested in VERICUT we modelled one machine to begin with and now all of our machines run through the software. All the engineers have to pass their work through VERICUT, it has made it much more efficient in terms of being able to run overnight, lights out, and it has also reduced the hours that we need a man in front of the machine, which is critical.
“Using VERICUT has helped us to grow, but without increasing staffing levels, and to be able to run efficiently, lights-out. I think anyone looking to take their business forward needs to be using every available tool, and I see VERICUT as an essential part of our future.”
The £4.5 million turnover, the company currently achieves comes almost exactly half and half from each discipline. However, Stephen Ollier has created business plans to increase the turnover to £10 million by 2018. He predicts that the growth of composites used in various industry sectors will tip the revenue balance 70:30 in favour of the composite side of the business.
“That said, we often produce complete suites of tools and we are very competitive on the machining side,” he says. “For the majority of the components we produce in the composite business there will also be an element of machining required, such as trimming and drilling. We are unusual in that we offer a single source solution for the composite components industry, from design to prototype tooling and components right through to finished part supply.”
Stephen Ollier concludes: “One of the key things for us to do is move composites into the more cost-conscious markets. The challenge is to get production costs down and volumes up, and we are always looking at ways to be more competitive and cost-effective. VERICUT is providing us with the confidence that we can run these sophisticated machine tools to the best of their ability to help achieve this.”